Ron Finegold, audio recording engineer and curator of notable recordings at Montreal's Jewish Public Library, was interviewed by Christa Whitney on December 13, 2011 at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, Quebec.
Ron's father's side of the family came to Montreal as a group through the Jewish Colonization Program in South America. Ron's mother was born in 1896, and lived in Płoskirów, now known as Khmelnytskyi, in modern-day Ukraine, from 1914-1921. Ron's mother recounted the events leading up to and including the Petliura pogroms (hundreds of pogroms that occurred while Symon Petliura was Head of State of the Ukraine from 1919-1920), the resulting assassination of Petliura by Sholem-Schmuel Schwarzbard, a Jewish Russian anarchist, in Paris, and the subsequent trial. Ron's mother was able to leave Płoskirów in September of 1921, escaping to Lwów (also known as Lemberg) where they were able to secure Polish passports seven months later. From there, they were finally allowed to leave for Antwerp and subsequently take a ship to Quebec City. Ron's mother, grandmother, and older cousin arrived on Labour Day, the first Monday in September, 1921.
Yiddish was the family's primary language until they switched to English when his siblings began school. Yiddish and Russian then became his parents’ secret languages. It wasn't until many years later that Ron was able to take a Yiddish course at the Jewish Public Library through McGill University. Ron then goes on to discuss the Jewish community in Montreal, and tells about kashrut certification (certification for food that is in keeping with Jewish dietary laws) and kosher butchers that his mother and the community patronized. Ron recounts one particular instance where his mother instinctively knew something was wrong with their regular butcher, so she switched to a newly-opened shop. Shortly afterward, the original shop lost its certification for selling non-kosher products, and the new shop remains in business until today.
After college, Ron worked for the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society, and found that the job allowed him to network within the Jewish community. It led him to many relationships within Freemasonry, which he has found to be rewarding both as a fraternity and as a charitable organization.
Ron then goes on to discuss his connection to the Jewish Public Library (JPL). He recounts the way the JPL has morphed throughout the years. Early on, their collection was primarily in English and Yiddish. It expanded after World War II to include materials in Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, and French, among others.
Ron's first important project at the library was with Will Ostringer, who had been recording audio for the library's live events with his own equipment: a set of microphones and a portable Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder. Ron bought his own audio equipment and began to do his own recordings of material of Jewish interest. Around that time audiocassettes were beginning to be extensively utilized and the library was able to make copies of these recordings and lend them as part of their collection. There were some extremely popular recordings in the collection with which Ron was involved, such as recordings of Charles Bronfman, Abraham Joshua Herschel, Saul Bellow, Irving Leighton, Bernard Malamud, and others.
Ron sees contemporary Yiddish as Singer saw it, as “...always dying, and always there.” He goes on to observe the tremendous number of source and borrowed words that work in Hebrew and English, but laments that Yiddish will not be the lingua franca anymore. Ron concludes that the gradual decline of the use of the language is unfortunate, “but it is the nature of the thing.” Ron adds that contemporary Yiddish education and communication will always be a niche market.
Ron continues with advice for the future, saying that despite the attempts to de-Judaize Judaism, to refashion Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), the various manifestations of Orthodoxy are the only trajectories that have a lasting effect on the survival of Judaism. Ron relates the story of Richard Marceau, a Member of Parliament with the Bloc Québécois from 1997-2006, who converted to Reform Judaism. After being excluded from counting towards a Chabad minyan in Quebec City (the traditional quorum of ten Jewish men required for prayer), he decided that he needed to convert to Orthodox Judaism. These sorts of stories, of Jewish journeys, make Ron proud.
To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit: http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/tell-your-story
To cit this interview: Ron Finegold Oral History Interview, interviewed by Christa Whitney, Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project, Montreal, Canada, December 14, 2011. Video recording, http://archive.org/details/RonFinegold14dec2011YiddishBookCenter ( [date accessed] )